An Unconventional Model of Poverty Alleviation Directed by the Human Rights Approaches: Based on an Observation of the Targeted Poverty Alleviation Policy and Its Practice in Weixian County of Hebei
January 20,2021   By:CSHRS
An Unconventional Model of Poverty Alleviation Directed by the Human Rights Approaches: Based on an Observation of the Targeted Poverty Alleviation Policy and Its Practice in Weixian County of Hebei Province
HUANG Jinrong*
Abstract: Against the background that poverty alleviation is increasingly linked to the human rights-based approach in the international community, an issue arises concerning how to assess the targeted poverty alleviation strategy in China from a human rights perspective. The human rights-based approach emphasizes connecting poverty alleviation with those rights recognized in international human rights conventions, with a focus on the notion of multi-dimensional poverty and the empowerment and accountability in the process of poverty alleviation. The targeted poverty alleviation in China embodies the notion of capability poverty and adopts a multi-dimensional poverty alleviation strategy. The principles of empowerment and accountability have also been implemented to a large extent. All of the elements existing in the targeted poverty alleviation model such as super political will, government dominance, targeted implementation and unconventional mobilization are critical to ensuring the eventual success of poverty alleviation and human rights protection therein. Generally speaking, some deficiencies in respect of empowerment and rule of law in targeted poverty alleviation will not hinder the overall effectiveness of poverty alleviation. Nevertheless, it will be very helpful to reinforce the empowerment and rule of law in order to insure the fairness and sustainability in poverty alleviation, especially in the inevitable transition from an unconventional model of poverty alleviation to a conventional one in future.
Keywords: targeted poverty alleviation· human rights-based approach · empowerment · rule of law · unconventional model
As far as poverty alleviation is concerned, China has been a top achiever in the international community since the launch of its reform and opening-up policy. Thanks to its rapid economic development and long-term adherence to the national strategy of development for poverty alleviation, China has made world-renowned achievements in poverty alleviation. According to the United Nations “Millennium Development Goals Report 2015,” China is not only the country that has lifted the largest population out of poverty but also the country that has taken the lead in fulfilling the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The proportion of its extremely poor population dropped from 61 percent in 1990 to less than 30 percent in 2002 and further to 4.2 percent in 2014.1 In 2018, its poverty rate dropped further to 1.7 percent. Therefore,it can indeed be said that “Poverty reduction action is the most significant sign of the progress in China’s human rights cause.”2 In 2014, China continued its “poverty alleviation battle” with a new approach aimed at eliminating rural poverty by 2020. The targeted poverty alleviation will achieve the goal of poverty alleviation in 2020. This will not only bring China’s human rights cause to a higher level, it will also be a major incentive for poverty alleviation in developing countries around the world.
However, although China’s poverty alleviation achievements are universally recognized, in the context of the international community increasingly linking poverty alleviation to human rights approaches, its poverty alleviation work should be objectively assessed from the perspective of human rights. Affected by the West’s long-term negative depiction of the human rights situation in China, the international community recognizes China’s poverty alleviation achievements on the one hand; but on the other hand, there are doubts within the international community about whether its poverty alleviation has been upholding human rights . In August 2016, Philip Alston, the third UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, visited China at the invitation of the Chinese government. He positively affirmed China’s achievements in poverty alleviation in his report, but at the same time, he left the impression of China failing to uphold the human rights approach in poverty alleviation.3 Admittedly, the poverty alleviation white paper released by the Chinese government clearly recognizes poverty alleviation and its elimination as an important part of human rights protection, but it is also an undeniable fact that there is a lack of wording on human rights in most of China’s poverty alleviation documents and local regulations. Does that mean that China does not conform to the human rights approach advocated by the United Nations in poverty alleviation? How should we objectively view some of the empowerment and rule-of-law deficiencies in its poverty alleviation? With those questions in mind, this paper attempts to provide some answers by analyzing China’s poverty alleviation policies and conducting studies on the poverty alleviation practices in Weixian county, Hebei province.
It combines the analysis of the precision poverty alleviation policy nationally with the observation of the targeted poverty alleviation in Weixian County. The survey of Weixian county was conducted based on the “Survey of 100 Counties (Cities,Districts) in 40 Years of Reform and Opening-up”, a project sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences for 2018. The author and other members of the research team went to Weixian county four times from June 11 to July 13, 2018, to conduct surveys. Weixian county was identified as a key county for poverty alleviation and development work in 2012. At the end of 2015, there were 181 poor villages, with a poor population of 20,581 in 9,536 households and the county had a poverty incidence rate of 4.46 percent. As a typical agricultural county, it has witnessed rapid economic development in recent years. More importantly, it has been subject to many innovative measures in targeted poverty alleviation. By effectively using various national policies for poverty alleviation and development, it has achieved its goals in targeted poverty alleviation, ecological protection, and economic development. Therefore, it can be said to be a classic example of China’s targeted poverty alleviation in impoverished areas. The present paper first discusses the relationship between poverty alleviation and the human rights approach, analyzes the implementation of the human rights approach in targeted poverty alleviation from concept and procedures, and then briefly analyzes the targeted poverty alleviation model from the perspective of human rights before further discussing the role of empowerment and rule of law in targeted poverty alleviation.
The basic conclusion of the present paper is that although there is still room for improvement, China’s targeted poverty alleviation is generally in line with the human rights approach advocated by the United Nations; certain empowerment and legal deficiencies will not have much impact on the effectiveness of poverty alleviation generally. However, China still needs to further strengthen the empowerment of citizens and law-based governance to ensure the fairness and sustainability of poverty alleviation in the inevitable change from an unconventional poverty alleviation model to a conventional model in the future.
I. Poverty Alleviation and the Human Rights Approach
The term “poverty” is not explicitly included in the major human rights conventions. But undoubtedly, it is closely related to human rights. The 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action stated that “extreme poverty and social exclusion constitute a violation of human dignity and that urgent steps are necessary to achieve a better knowledge of extreme poverty and its causes, including those related to the problem of development, so as to promote the human rights of the poorest, and to put an end to extreme poverty and social exclusion and to promote enjoying the fruits of social progress.” Since then, the concept of capability deprivation proposed by Amartya Sen has further linked poverty with a wide range of human rights and has been increasingly accepted by the United Nations. In 2001, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights issued a statement entitled Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, holding that although the term poverty is not explicitly included in the Covenant, it is one of the frequent themes and that many rights under the Covenant will have a direct impact on poverty eradication.4
Since then, advocating a human rights-based approach for poverty reduction or poverty alleviation activities has gradually become a mainstream approach within the United Nations. In 1998, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights established a special rapporteur on human rights and extreme poverty to investigate poverty reduction and human rights protection activities in countries around the world. Since then, the United Nations system has adopted many documents and publications successively to advocate a human rights approach in poverty alleviation and other activities. For example, various departments of the United Nations adopted a joint statement on human rights approaches5 in 2003; also in the same year, the United Nations Development Program issued “Poverty Reduction and Human Rights: A Practical Note;”6 the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released the publication Human Rights and Poverty Reduction: A Conceptual Framework in 2004. followed by Principles and Guidelines for A Human Rights Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategies in 2006.7 In July 2012, the Human Rights Council specifically adopted the Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty,8 which require governments, relevant UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, and other entities to take into account the guiding principles in formulating and implementing policies and measures for people affected by extreme poverty.
As for the content of the human rights approach, different United Nations documents are not completely consistent with one another in expression. However, in general, human rights approaches are largely regarded as opposed to welfare approaches or basic needs approaches. They emphasize linking poverty alleviation with the rights recognized in the international human rights conventions, and the empowerment and participation of poverty alleviation targets. They cherish the results and the process of poverty alleviation. Therefore, the rule of law, transparency, and accountability are generally regarded as their due meanings. Seen from relevant United Nations documents, the human rights approach to poverty alleviation mainly includes the following key elements.
A. Adopting the concept of multidimensional poverty or capability deprivation poverty
Since the 1990s, the international community has increasingly abandoned the original method of using income as the only criterion for measuring poverty, and instead accepted Amartya Sen’s concept of capability deprivation and the concept of multidimensional poverty associated with it. In 2001, the Committee on Economic,Social, and Cultural Rights defined poverty as “lack of the basic capability to live with dignity”, and its characteristics include “hunger, limited education, discrimina-tion, vulnerability, and social exclusion.”9 The Principles and Guidelines for a Human Rights Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategies clearly state that “From the perspective of human rights, poverty exists when a person’s rights to a series of basic abilities have not been realized. Therefore, capability deprivation is an essential feature of poverty.”10 Arjun Sengupla, the second special rapporteur on human rights and extreme poverty, also advocated in a report submitted to the Human Rights Council in 2008 a definition of poverty combining income poverty, human development poverty, and social exclusion, with income poverty referring to incomes below the agreed minimum disposable income, human development poverty referring to the inability to obtain or lack of certain basic goods and services needed to enable a meaningful life, and social exclusion referring to lack of the basic guarantee necessary for an adequate social life due to dependence on the structure of social relations.11 The 2012 Human Rights Council’s Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty also states that “It is based on an interrelated and multifaceted perspective of poverty”12 and that “Poverty is not just an economic problem but a multifaceted phenomenon including a lack of not only incomes but also the basic capability to live with dignity.”13 That concept actually regards poverty as being linked to all human rights, especially economic, social, and cultural rights and the right to development.
B. Recognizing international human rights standards and their interdependence
The Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty require that public policies for poverty alleviation conform to “the dignity, universality, indivisibility, interrelatedness, and interdependence of all rights.”14 Such a principle requires not only the internalization of international human rights law but also the diversity of human rights in poverty alleviation content. According to the concept of all human rights being interrelated to and interdependent on one another, all economic, social, and cultural rights, civil and political rights, as well as the right to development must be taken into account in the poverty alleviation policies. However, the core of the interrelated human rights are economic, social, and cultural rights. For Arjun Sengupta although extreme poverty is regarded as a denial of all human rights, poverty reduction mainly aims to eliminate income poverty and human development poverty at the operational level. Therefore, efforts must be made to determine human development indicators that reflect the access to food and health, the right to education, and sanitary condi-tions.15 The Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty also recognize that the core obligation of the state is to “ensure at least the minimum necessary economic, social and cultural rights for people living in poverty.” To such an end, “a
poverty reduction strategy based on a human rights approach shall be formulated and adopted” and “priority shall be accorded to the human rights of the most vulnerable groups, especially those living in extreme poverty, in designing and implementing public policies and allocating resources.”16
C. Emphasis on empowerment and participation
The human rights approach particularly emphasizes the “empowerment” of the targets of poverty alleviation. “The reason for the fact that the human rights framework is compelling in the context of poverty reduction lies in that it has the potential to empower the poor. As widely recognized now, effective poverty reduction is not possible without the empowerment of the poor. The human rights approach to poverty reduction is essentially about such empowerment.”17 The Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty also emphasize that, “All poverty-related policies must aim at enhancing the empowerment of people living in poverty.”18 Empowerment means that the target of poverty alleviation should have the right to participate in and supervise the relevant poverty alleviation policies and decisions concerning their vital interests; meanwhile, it also means that effective relief should be ensured for damages to the rights and benefits of the poor.
D. Pursuing the principles of equality and non-discrimination
Equality and non-discrimination are the basic principles recognized by all human rights conventions. Therefore, human rights approaches inevitably require the implementation of the principles of equality and non-discrimination in poverty alleviation. The Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty require all countries to ensure that people living in poverty can receive equal protection of the law without discrimination. Therefore, it is necessary for them to eliminate all forms of direct or indirect legislative or administrative discrimination because of economic conditions or other poverty-related factors.
Moreover, the principles also require countries to take active measures to ensure the de facto equality of people living in poverty and to offer special protection to women, children, and other groups vulnerable to poverty.19
E. Emphasis on supervision and accountability
Poverty alleviation is a planned and organized action largely aimed at protecting human rights. To make it truly effective, we must ensure that the implementers of poverty alleviation policies are subject to effective supervision and held accountable for failure to effectively perform their duties. Specifically, the monitoring and accountability mechanism should include two aspects: first, ensure that the poor have the right to supervise poverty alleviation actions, and access to effective remedies through judicial,quasi-judicial, administrative, and political mechanisms when their human rights are undermined or endangered by poverty alleviation actions; second, the state must establish relevant procedures, including adequate and convenient complaint mechanisms,supervision mechanisms, and punishment mechanisms to prevent, identify,and counter corruption and other misconduct.20 Supervision and accountability mechanisms are often associated with the rule of law and justice, as well as administrative and political monitoring and accountability mechanisms.
The human rights approach is cherished in poverty alleviation largely because “it helps strengthen anti-poverty strategies and enhance their effectiveness.”21 However, poverty alleviation is an action highly demanding of a scientific approach, organization,and resources. For any developing country with a large poor population,effectively launching poverty alleviation actions in accordance with its national conditions is a highly challenging task. The human rights approach to poverty alleviation is important, but it must also be realized that international human rights law will not and cannot provide detailed planning for poverty alleviation itself. Countries must implement poverty alleviation strategies tailored to their actual conditions. “Poverty is a specific, locally contextualized experience.”22 Therefore, “poverty reduction strategies must be country-owned.”23 Only in this way can poverty alleviation strategies be successful. Targeted poverty alleviation is an effective strategy implemented by the Chinese government based on its understanding of the national conditions of China and its long-term poverty alleviation experience.
II. The Concept of Capability Deprivation in Targeted Poverty Alle- viation and Multi-Dimensional Poverty Alleviation Strategies
In view of the multidimensional nature of poverty and the interdependence of human rights, the United Nations regards poverty as multidimensional with capacity deprivation at the core, and thus links poverty reduction to almost all types of human rights (in particular, economic, social, and cultural rights and the right to development).Judging from the relevant targeted poverty alleviation policies issued by the central government, targeted poverty alleviation is obviously not one-dimensional or intended to merely raise the income levels of poor rural people, but comprehensive and aimed at improving the income level, development ability, and protection of basic economic and social rights of the poor. This is generally in line with the mainstream concept of addressing capacity deprivation as defined by the United Nations.
Specifically, it is mainly reflected in the following aspects: (1) The main target is the poor rural population with working ability; the concept of “knowledge inculcation preceding poverty alleviation” being upheld and the focus shifting from “blood transfusion” to “blood making”; (2) The core goal is to ensure “sufficient food and clothing, compulsory education, basic medical care and safe housing for the rural poor,” directly related to the right to education, the right to health, and the right to food, clothing, and housing; (3) Organizing the exporting of labor services and implementing poverty alleviation measures such as the work-for-account, to ensure the right to work of the poor; (4) Implementing medical insurance and medical assistance for poverty alleviation, as well as the rural minimum living security system, to protect the right to health and social security of the poor; (5) The nutrition improvement plan for rural compulsory education students, the rural drinking water safety guarantee project, the renovation of rural dilapidated houses, and the improvement of human settlements directly involve the protection of the right to food, education, water, housing, and health; (6) Promoting the integration of urban and rural development, and gradually realizing the equalization of basic public services, and according priority to left-behind children, women, the elderly, and the disabled directly involves the protection of equal rights; and (7) Upholding the concept of ecological protection for green development,emphasizing the industrial poverty alleviation linked to the interests of the poor, and prioritizing the poor areas in infrastructure construction of transportation, water conservancy, power facilities, and broadband networks to promote the right to development of poor areas and poor populations.
This shows that the targeted poverty alleviation policy implemented by the central government fully addresses the capability deprivation of the poor and the multi-dimensional poverty alleviation strategy advocated by the human rights approach. The concept and strategy have also been relatively well implemented in Weixian county,whose targeted poverty alleviation not only embodies the economic development concept with green development and industrial poverty alleviation as the core but also combines the reform of urban-rural integration to ensure equal infrastructure and social services to urban and rural residents. In addition, Weixian county has also achieved comprehensive coverage of the poor population in view of the local reality.
A. Addressing poverty by pursuing green development
Poverty is largely a problem of insufficient economic and social development. Promoting economic development has always been one of the key factors to its eradication, a fact about which the People’s Government of Weixian county has been clear. As a county with barren land, insufficient vegetation and water, and underdeveloped industry, Weixian county put forward the slogan “Green Rise” in 2009, upholding the bottom line of no damage to the ecological environment when attracting investment,and striving to establish a virtuous circle of economic development coordinated with environmental protection. It has been committed to developing modern ecological ag-riculture, with special emphasis on “industrial ecologicalization and ecological industrialization.” Its introduction of Deqingyuan Chicken Farm, Junlebao Leyuan Animal Husbandry, and other industrial poverty alleviation projects have all achieved the goal of economic development coordinated with poverty alleviation and ecological protection. It has also vigorously planted trees and greened urban and rural areas, with its forest coverage increased from 3.78 percent to nearly 30 percent in 2016. Therefore, it has won the “National Advanced County in Greening Models” and other awards. It has also launched a “water ecological restoration” through innovative water conservation mechanisms, and vigorously rectified river channels, greatly improving the ecological environment.
B.Vigorously promoting integrated urban and rural construction to ensure equal human rights for urban and rural residents
Weixian county first addressed urban and rural areas as a whole with unified and comprehensive planning for the urban and rural layout, industrial development, ecological construction, infrastructure, and public services. Then, it actively promoted the integration of urban and rural areas in infrastructure and ecological construction, for example, the urban-rural integrated construction of transport networks, water supply, natural gas, and other infrastructure facilities and the extension of a backbone optical fiber network to all townships. By June 2018, there were only 75 villages with separate water supplies not integrated into the unified water supply network. The county promoted the transition from coal to gas in rural areas and made gas accessible to most towns and villages. It also promoted the integration of urban and rural medical care and public healthcare services. At the end of 2014, it took the lead in establishing a unified medical insurance system for urban and rural residents in Hebei province, realizing “the same insurance and the same treatment for both urban and rural areas.” In 2016, it began to implement integrated sanitation operations, and outsourced to a company environmental sanitation of all the 522 villages, radically improving rural sanitation.
C. Ensuring the full coverage of the poor with the multi-dimensional poverty alleviation policy
In its poverty alleviation practice, Weixian county has adopted some innovative measures tailored to local conditions, while fully utilizing the various policies and measures of the state, Hebei province, and Xingtai city. That is explained in the following aspects.
The first is the full basic coverage of civil affairs assistance. According to the central government’s policy, policy guarantees are implemented for families that cannot rely on industrial support and employment to get rid of poverty. In accordance with the policy of Hebei province for integrating the subsistence line and poverty alleviation line, Weixian county included all eligible registered poor people in the list of those eligible for the rural subsistence allowance (subsistence allowance households) or destitution support (five-guarantee households without centralized support), so as to “ensure full coverage for all eligible.” 
The second is full coverage of education assistance. Ensuring the right to education of the poor is a very important part of poverty alleviation. In this regard, Weixian county sought to limit the number of dropouts to guarantee schooling. It adopts village-by-village, household-by-household, and student-by-student registration and encouraged 73 students who had dropped out to return to school; sent the “Policy Note of Weixian County for All School Ages” to all 757 students from registered poor families to guide them to apply for aid from their schools. In 2017, its subsidization rate for pre-school education, “two exemptions and one subsidy” for compulsory education, “three exemptions and one subsidy” for senior high school, and the “Yulu Program” for secondary vocational schools all had a participation rate of 100 percent, and its nine-year compulsory education consolidation rate reached 97.31 percent. For this, it was recognized by the Ministry of Education as a county with basically balanced development in compulsory education.
The third is full coverage of basic medical insurance. Weixian county has implemented the “one-stop” reimbursement service featuring payment after diagnosis and treatment for the poor population, while creatively launching the targeted health poverty alleviation initiative for “four batches”, including a batch with serious illnesses, a batch with general hospitalization, a batch with household hospital bed management, and a batch with family doctors.
Weixian county has increased the reimbursement ratio of hospitalization compliant expenses at designated medical institutions to 90 percent of the poor households included in the major diseasesrelief program; 90 percent of the out-of-pocket medical expenses after reimbursement of compliant expenses with basic medical insurance and critical illness insurance are paid with the medical assistance funds. For ordinary inpatient treatment, 80 percent of the out-of-pocket payment is paid with medical assistance funds. For poor patients with chronic diseases requiring long-term treatment, Weixian county has drawn on the family doctor system being implemented and creatively launched a “compassion” contracted service package for the poor. The basic pharaceutical drugs on the national list are eligible for 70 percent reimbursement with the basic medical insurance, and 80 percent of the out-of-pocket payment is covered with medical-care aid funds.
The fourth is full coverage of housing security. Housing is one of the core contents of the targeted poverty alleviation program. In order to achieve this goal, Hebei province required that more than 70 percent of the renovation quota of rural dilapidated houses be in poor counties and that renovation of all existing dilapidated houses be completed by 2020. From 2014 to 2017, Weixian county sought a total of 31,46 million yuan from the superior authority to renovate dilapidated houses. It had renovated 2,231 rural dilapidated houses, including those of 536 poor households by 2017. In addition to poor households, Weixian county also allocated over 10 million yuan of government funds to subsidize the renovation of the houses of 2,090 marginal households, who were living in homes that did not meet the standards for rural dilapidated houses but which needed urgent work.
The fifth is full coverage of social security. Social security here mainly includes social insurance or commercial insurance provided by the government. The state requires that the out-of-pocket payment of the poor people for basic medical insurance be subsidized by the government. Weixian county has ensured that all its registered poor are covered by basic medical insurance. In addition to paying the basic medical insurance premiums for the poor, it has also learned from the practices of other counties and cities in Hebei province, and provided supplementary commercial insurance for registered poor households, to ensure that they do not fall into poverty due to illness. In addition, it has also bought special insurance for marginal households — “poverty prevention insurance” to prevent poor marginal households from becoming impoverished because of illnesses, disasters, or accidents.
D. The identification and exit criteria of poor households fully reflect the multi-dimensional strategy for poverty alleviation
In the process of targeted poverty alleviation, both the identification and the withdrawal criteria for poor households are multi-dimensional. The rural poverty line standard established by the state is only one of the standards, and the rest involves many aspects, such as housing, education, employment, and medical care. For example,poor households in Weixian county must first satisfy the “six indicators” in order to exit, including: (1) In 2017, stable per capita net income that exceeds the national poverty alleviation standard of 3,200 yuan; (2) stable income growth through employment;(3) access to safe drinking water; (4) living in safe housing; (5) no children of compulsory-education age who have dropped out of school; and (6) participation in basic medical insurance for urban and rural residents. Failure to meet any of them would mean their withdrawal would be denied. Second, under five situations, poor households should not be withdrawn from “five assistance plans,” for example, failure to enjoy the poverty alleviation policy or achieve obvious support effect or poverty incurred by disability and without a stable income. It can be seen from all perspectives that the withdrawal criteria of poor households fully reflect a typical multi-dimensional poverty alleviation strategy.
III. Process and Procedures of Human Rights Approaches in Target- ed Poverty Alleviation
The human rights approach emphasizes not only conformity to certain human rights standards to ensure the fairness of poverty alleviation results, but also the fairness of the poverty alleviation process. To ensure that the process complies with human rights standards, we must not only ensure the measurability of the poverty alleviation process by setting goals and benchmarks but also ensure its sustainability and effectiveness by ensuring participation, transparency, and accountability. The Principles and Guidelines for a Human Rights Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategies states that due to resource constraints, economic, social, and cultural rights that affect the realization of poverty reduction goals may need to be gradually realized. Therefore,there is a time dimension in the strategy for realizing human rights, consequently making the “establishment of goals and benchmarks an indispensable factor in human rights realization strategies.”24 To this end, “the state should set up appropriate indicators so as to monitor the pace of progress.”25
During the implement of targeted poverty alleviation, detailed targets, benchmarks, and indicators, so its implementation and supervision are very easy. For example, the Decision on Winning the Uphill Battle against Poverty clearly provides for the timing, the main areas of human rights protection, the income growth target of poor areas, the equalization goal of public services, the poverty alleviation targets of the poor population and poor counties in targeted poverty alleviation. The indicators for measuring the sub-objectives are also specific. Take the sub-objectives of equalizing public services in poor areas for example. It includes the following measurement indicators: “where conditions meet, townships and administrative villages in poor areas should have hardened roads, dynamic electricity, comprehensively solved housing and drinking water safety; basic requirements for a clean and tidy living environment satisfied, the problem of compulsory education students dropping out of school due to poverty should be solved, full coverage of the basic endowment insurance, basic medical insurance, and critical illness insurance should be achieved for the poor; subsistence guarantee should be achieved where eligible.”26
Targeted poverty alleviation also has more detailed regulations in terms of ensuring participation, transparency, supervision, and accountability. For example, the 2014 “Registration Work Plan for Poverty Alleviation through Development” put forward clear requirements for participation and transparency in identifying poor households and poor villages. For example, it requires “two publicity and one announcement” for “the identification of poor households”, and “one publicity and one announcement” for the identification of poor villages. Meanwhile, relevant records and archives must be available, and the whole process must be disclosed, and subject to supervision to ensure fair results.” These specific goals, standards, and procedural regulations not only make the poverty alleviation process open and transparent but also make supervision and accountability rules-based. We can take a look at the practice of Weixian county and other places to see how the local government effectively controls the poverty alleviation process.
A. Indexing standards for identification and withdrawal of poor households and villages
An important feature of targeted poverty alleviation is precision, which is ensured through continuous refinement of standards and indicators from the central government to the local level. This is reflected in the identification and withdrawal mechanism of poor households and villages in Weixian county. 
Strategies for poverty alleviation must first start with the identification of the poor. The Principles and Guidelines for a Human Rights Approach to Poverty Re-duction Strategies requires that in poverty alleviation we must first “identify those in a state of extreme poverty, that is, the poorest among the poor.”27 According to the policy of Hebei province, Weixian county has identified three more operable indicators when identifying poor households besides the income standard, including “five mandatory indicators”, “six circumstances for prioritization” and “seven circumstances of disqualification.” The “five mandatory indicators” include “housing, food, work, school-age children, and bedridden patients”; “six circumstances for prioritization” mean “priority for those with a severe illness, or severe disability, or who have dropped out of school due to poverty, or those unable to work, and those without obligatory support or safe housing”; “seven circumstances of disqualification” are circumstances to be excluded for avoiding obvious unfairness, for example, households with members working in state agencies or state-owned enterprises, serving as a village CPC branch secretary or village committee director, or owning commercial houses in cities and towns. Those identification indicators with local characteristics are in line with human rights approaches, which are less controversial locally, and are very helpful in accurately identifying the poorest.
For the withdrawal mechanism of poor villages, the fundamental basis is the 2016 Opinions on Establishing a Poverty Withdrawal Mechanism. Weixian county has formulated a more specific scoring system for the withdrawal of poor villages in accordance with the policies of Hebei province. With a comprehensive poverty incidence rate of less than 2 percent as the main measurement indicator, it takes into account nine indicators such as village infrastructure, basic public services, industrial development, and collective economic income. Different weights are set for them in a percentage system. Villages with a score over 80 are withdrawn, but “comprehensive poverty incidence” is a veto indicator. For example, a comprehensive poverty incidence rate of below 2 percent is worth 30 points; the proportion of poor households that achieve stable income increase through industrial employment reaching 100 percent is worth 10 points; the rate of poverty households participating in urban and rural basic medical insurance reaching 100 percent is worth eight points; hardening and lighting of main roads in a village are worth 10 points; basic sanitation facilities are worth eight points. In order to make the system more operable, Weixian county has made more detailed regulations on the standards of infrastructure in poor villages (such as cultural squares, basic sanitation facilities, construction standards for village clinics, safe drinking water, and street lamp installation).
B. Participation in the identification and withdrawal of poor households
In accordance with the Registration Work Plan for Poverty Alleviation and Development, Weixian county has adopted poor household identification through the procedures of application by a farming household, democratic appraisal, public announcement, and level-by-level review, and entire household identification. Specifically, it mainly includes the following procedures: (1) Farming households voluntarily submit an application; (2) the per capita net income of farmers is calculated household by household; (3) a village representative assembly is covened to conduct democratic evaluations and draw up an initial list; (4) the draft list is publicized for the first time (for five days), and submitted to the township people’s government for review if no objections are received; (5) the list of poor households in the township (town) is determined, and this list is publicized in each administrative village (for five days),and submitted the list to the county poverty alleviation office for re-examination, if no objections are received; (6) The county poverty alleviation office re-examines the shortlisted households, forming a list of poor households in the county, and publicizes it through county-level news media in each administrative village (for seven days).
The entire determination procedure fully reflects democracy and transparency,thus basically guaranteeing accuracy and fairness. The withdrawal of poor households is proposed by the “two committees” of each village after democratic appraisal. Then, it is verified by the “two committees” and the village task force, recognized by the withdrawing poor households, and publicized in the village if no objection is received. In addition to villagers’ appraisal, the process must also comply with the procedures of township review and county decision.
C. Supervision and accountability in targeted poverty alleviation
Supervision and accountability are the basic requirements of the human rights approach. For targeted poverty alleviation, traditional litigation and auditing methods can still play an important role. For example, poor households can file administrative reconsideration and administrative litigation in accordance with the Interim Measures for Social Assistance for violation of their rights during the government’s poverty alleviation efforts. The audit authority has also been playing an important role in supervising targeted poverty alleviation. For example, from January to March 2018, the National Audit Office audited the implementation of poverty alleviation policies and the use of funds in 145 poor counties nationwide in 2017 and found cases of failure to benefit the poor through education and health poverty alleviation policies.28 However, targeted poverty alleviation has special mechanisms that are more effective for supervision and accountability.
First of all, the state has gradually formed a poverty monitoring system by establishing the connection of registration information for poor counties, poor villages, and poor households to rural poverty statistical monitoring data, thus realizing the tracking and dynamic monitoring of poor households and poor villages, as well as the supervision of governmental poverty alleviation. Weixian county also took the lead in developing a big data platform for targeted poverty alleviation. The village task force records the income of poor households, causes of poverty, and assistance measures, and uploads the data to the county poverty alleviation office, keeping its work traceable throughout the process.
Second, in accordance with national policies, a village-based task force system involving government-sent personnel has been established in every poor village. The leaders of Weixian county government are required to participate in poverty alleviation in the village, and take the lead in household visits and item-by-item accounting to give full play to their role as village officials. This kind of poverty alleviation task force can to a large extent prevent the cronyism that damages the fairness of poverty alleviation and the unity of the villagers.29
Third, various inspection and evaluation mechanisms have been established to effectively supervise and evaluate the effectiveness of targeted poverty alleviation. For example, in June 2016, the city of Xingtai launched the special campaign “One Accountability and Eight Cleanups” to conduct inspections on poverty alleviation work in 10 poor counties including Weixian county, randomly selecting five villages in each county; in October 2017, it launched a cross-examination system among poor counties in the city. In addition, Weixian county also hired a third party to evaluate the the identification and withdrawal processed via the governmental purchase of services. In early and July 2018, it underwent the third-party evaluation organized by the provincial government and the central government and was officially withdrawn from the list of national poor counties on September 29, 2018 after passing two strict examinations.
In supervision and accountability, the most powerful is the extremely strict political and disciplinary accountability mechanism for targeted poverty alleviation. In view of the political importance of targeted poverty alleviation, the central government has placed extraordinary emphasis on accountability for poverty alleviation. In 2016, the Measures for Implementing the Responsibility System for Poverty Alleviation required provincial Party committees and government principals to sign a letter of responsibility for poverty alleviation to the central government, and report to the central government on the progress of poverty alleviation. In order to complete targeted poverty alleviation, it required that the principal officials of the Party and government in poor counties stick to their post without promotion or adjustment until poverty had been eradicated in the counties. Under such political and organizational discipline requirements, officials incompetent in implementing targeted poverty alleviation policy or violating regulations and disciplines were severely punished. At the end of 2017, the Commission for Discipline Inspection of the CPC Central Committee and the Commission for Discipline Inspection of the CPC Hebei Provincial Committee found that Yuxian county and Kangbao county under the jurisdiction of Zhangjiakou city had been ineffective in the supervision, inspection, and supervision of poverty alleviation. In the end, the main leaders of Zhangjiakou city were subjected to naming and shaming while the main leaders of Yuxian county and Kangbao county were removed from office.30 In addition, the former director and deputy director of the Poverty Alleviation and Development Office of Weixian county were also expelled from the Party for violating discipline and misappropriating poverty alleviation funds.31
IV. The Human Rights Significance of Targeted Poverty Alleviation
The targeted poverty alleviation practice of Weixian county is a microcosm of the targeted poverty alleviation model in China. Seen from the process and results, poverty alleviation has undoubtedly been relatively successful in Weixian county. It has not only enabled the government to have a better understanding of the status of the poor but also ensured the government’s poverty alleviation measures have been accurate and effective. The use of the human rights approach in principle is undoubtedly an important reason why targeted poverty alleviation is effective. Therefore, the results serve to confirm the international human rights approach advocated by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and its assertion “anti-poverty policies are more effective, sustainable, inclusive, equitable and meaningful for those living in poverty.”32 However, for any country, poverty alleviation is an arduous undertaking involving a wide range of factors, such as politics, the economy, society, and the law. Implementing human rights principles alone may not necessarily ensure the success of poverty alleviation. Otherwise, those developing countries that have adopted Western democracy and human rights protection models in the eyes of many Western scholars should be more likely to succeed in poverty alleviation. However, the facts are far from the case. That shows that the effectiveness of China’s targeted poverty alleviation is attributable not only to its human rights approach but also to a large extent the strong national governance capabilities of the Chinese government, based on the characteristics and advantages of its political, economic, and social systems. The following factors can be regarded as some characteristics of China’s targeted poverty alleviation model.
A. Strong political will
Poverty eradication requires the government to take various active intervention measures, mobilize economic and social resources, strive to design and implement reasonable poverty alleviation projects, and launch extensive social mobilization. All those efforts take the government’s firm political commitment and political will for poverty alleviation as the premise. Arjun Sengupta, the former special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, believes that “in today’s world with advanced technology and abundant output, designing a practical poverty alleviation plan is not out of question as long as governments have the political will and the determination to implement the measures.”33 The fundamental reason for China’s success in poverty alleviation is that the Chinese government has always shown an unparalleled strong political will to eliminate poverty. Philip Alston spoke highly of “the firm and genuine commitment to building a ‘well-off society’ without extreme poverty of the Chinese leadership, which has demonstrated admirable and rare political will in the world.”34 He believed that among those factors, “the real political will to achieve poverty reduction is arguably the most important factor.”35
The reason for the Chinese government to have such a strong political will to eradicate poverty is that poverty alleviation not only relates to the socialist emphasis on the value of equality but is also a goal of the ruling party. It regards “eliminating poverty, improving people’s livelihoods, and gradually realizing common prosperity” as “the essential requirement of socialism” and “the important mission of the Party.”36 Therefore, China has always regarded poverty alleviation as an important national strategy since the launch of reform and opening-up and launched large-scale development for poverty alleviation in a planned and organized manner throughout the country. After 2014, it began to implement targeted poverty alleviation with unprecedented intensity so as to achieve the goal of eradicating poverty in the country.
Seen from the perspective of the relationship between human rights and poverty alleviation, the strong political will of the government is of great significance to the protection of human rights related to poverty alleviation. An important feature of the economic, social, and cultural rights and the right to development, which are most closely connected to poverty alleviation, is that their realization is dependent on the active implementation of the state to promote and provide obligations. The strong political will of the Chinese government in poverty alleviation means that it “will forge ahead on its own accord” and actively fulfill its obligations in safeguarding such rights. Thus, the most powerful political guarantee has been provided for the realization of such rights.
B. Government leadership
Poverty alleviation is mainly the responsibility of the government, and the protection of human rights related to poverty alleviation is also its main obligation. Therefore, it is not surprising that the government should play a central role in poverty alleviation projects in all countries. However, as an administrative-led country, China is hardly comparable by other countries in the government’s leading function in poverty alleviation.
Seen from the perspective of human rights approaches, the government-led poverty alleviation is not a problem, but the role of other actors must also be emphasized. The Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty specifically propose giving full play to the role of NGOs, industrial and commercial enterprises, and other actors in poverty alleviation.37 The fact that China’s targeted poverty alleviation is led by the government does not mean that it is a one-man show by the government. The Decision on Winning the Uphill Battle against Poverty also advocated that the government “coordinate the efforts of society” and “build a large-scale pattern in which special poverty alleviation, industry poverty alleviation, and social poverty alleviation complement each other.” Therefore, targeted poverty alleviation is actually a campaign led by the government with extensive social participation. The government has not only mobilized state agencies, private organizations, state-owned enterprises, scientific research institutions, the military, and non-state-owned units to participate in fixed-point poverty alleviation but also promoted counterpart assistance to the poor western region by the developed eastern region. It has called on all kinds of enterprises to launch industrial poverty alleviation in the poverty-stricken areas and encouraged social organizations and individuals to participate in the development-oriented poverty alleviation.
Of course, social poverty alleviation and industrial poverty alleviation are both the result of active governmental organization and that of promotion to a large extent. For example, the participation of the Ministry of Education in designated poverty alleviation measures in Weixian county is the result of the central arrangement while the most effective industrial poverty alleviation there is the result of long-term foreign investment promotion by the people’s government of Weixian county. The important role played by leading enterprises in Weixian county, such as Deqingyuan Chicken Farm and Junle Baoleyuan Animal Husbandry, in industrial poverty alleviation was attributable to the mobilization of the government and the active participation of enterprises.
C. Precise implementation
The pursuit of precision in poverty alleviation is an important feature that makes targeted poverty alleviation different from its predecessors. Since the root causes of poverty differ from region to region and household to household, it has always been a difficulty in poverty alleviation to get the measures adapted to local conditions and individual conditions. In order to address the issues of an unclear poor population, inaccurate targets for help, and other problems in past poverty alleviatio efforts, and ensure the flow of poverty alleviation resources to the real poor, the Chinese government began to pursue more detailed and individualized targeted poverty alleviation in 2014. Regular inspections of poor villages and poor households are exercised for the registration and dynamic management of entry and withdrawal. Meanwhile, third-party evaluation mechanisms have been introduced to strengthen the social supervision over the performance of poverty alleviation so as to ensure the credibility of poverty alleviation and eradication.
Seen from the perspective of human rights, the pursuit of targeted poverty alleviation is always consistent with the human rights approach. The Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty requires that “the state should ensure due priority to people living in extreme poverty in public policies.” but there is the premise of objectively identifying “people living in extreme poverty.” UNDP officials have praised targeted poverty alleviation for “making it possible for China to specify poverty re-duction work for every community and every household, and gradually complete the overall goal through localized conditions,” thus making the “Chinese experience” an important reference for global poverty reduction.38
D. Unconventional mobilization
Targeted poverty alleviation is a political decision made after poverty alleviation encountered a bottleneck in China. After years of economic development and poverty alleviation, it is extremely challenging and costly to lift the remaining poor in rural China out of poverty. In addition, it is a large population. However, the national poverty alleviation plan requires that the task of poverty alleviation for the rural poor must be completed by the end of 2020. The arduous nature of this undertaking makes it difficult for the government to achieve the target with conventional poverty alleviation methods and channels. To achieve such a goal, the Chinese government has adopted an extraordinary mobilization approach to promote targeted poverty alleviation. This unconventional approach specifically manifests as follows: (1) Almost all government departments, state-owned enterprises, and public institutions are mobilized to participate in targeted poverty alleviation by proposing poverty alleviation plans or dispatching personnel; (2) It is clearly required that the focus of Party and government leaders in poor areas be placed on poverty alleviation and development; (3) Large public and private enterprises have been extensively mobilized to participate in industrial poverty alleviation; (4) An extensive village task force system has been established to ensure that every poor village has a task force and every poor household has a person responsible for assistance; and (5) Active efforts have been made to introduce multiple verification mechanisms, including third-party assessment mechanisms.
Under the background of poverty alleviation being the core mission of the government, not only have most government agencies (including judicial agencies) and public institutions in Weixian county participated in targeted assistance to poor villages but also almost all state-owned units have sent people to serve as resident officials in the villages. The number of people staying behind in some county agencies even became a minority. Seen from the perspective of human rights, the significance of such unconventional political mobilization for precision poverty alleviation consists of transforming the strong political will for poverty alleviation into actual government execution capabilities through effective organizational forms, thereby avoiding failure due to weak execution. The strong political pressure and accountability mechanism, coupled with third-party neutral supervision mechanism instituted for both the village officials and the government, have largely ensured actual achievements and precision and fairness in poverty alleviation.
V. The Rule of Law and Empowerment in Targeted Poverty Allevia- tion
A. Two questions about the rule of law and empowerment through targeted poverty alleviation
The practice has shown that China’s targeted poverty alleviation model not only basically conforms to the human rights approach in achieving poverty reduction, but also has strong practical feasibility. Therefore, the author is convinced of its success. However, it does not fully meet the expectations of many for the poverty alleviation model based on human rights and the rule of law, thus giving rise to questions about whether insufficient empowerment and rule of law seriously affect its effectiveness.
We should admit that targeted poverty alleviation does not seem to conform to the human rights approach in the following aspects.
First of all, targeted poverty alleviation is generally a policy-based governance model. The Human Rights Approach: A Statement of Common Understanding jointly issued by various United Nations agencies regards rule of law as one of the basic principles to be upheld in the human rights approach. Seen from the perspective of human rights protection, incorporating human rights into the law for implementation is generally more conducive to the effective protection of rights. However, seen from the perspective of China’s practice, targeted poverty alleviation is mainly implemented not through laws but through government policy documents. The normative framework for targeted poverty alleviation comprises Opinions on Innovating Mechanisms to Solidly Promote Rural Poverty Alleviation and Development and the Implementation Plan for Establishing Precision Poverty Alleviation Work Mechanisms issued in 2014, the Decisions on Winning the Uphill Battle against Poverty issued in 2015, The Measures for Implementing the Responsibility System for Poverty Alleviation and Opinions on Establishing a Poverty Withdrawal Mechanism issued in 2016, Guiding Opinions on the Three-year Action for Winning the Uphill Battle against Poverty and other documents of the central party and government agencies. At the local level, there are only a few local regulations dedicated to poverty alleviation.
Second, although targeted poverty alleviation is essentially the empowerment of the poor, there has been no formal emphasis of this. Targeted poverty alleviation is undoubtedly a substantive empowerment action, and the government is also earnestly fulfilling its active obligations in protecting human rights. However, it is undeniable that neither the central poverty alleviation policies nor the local poverty alleviation laws and regulations declare that poverty alleviation is aimed at protecting citizens’ economic and social rights or other rights. In the actual poverty alleviation of the government, publicity of this kind of right is rarely seen. Special Rapporteur Philip Alston criticized China’s poverty alleviation policies for their inadequate empowerment. First, he expressed regret that the rights recognized in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights are not fully reflected in China’s legal system.39 Second, he expressed concern about the lack of effective rights and remedies for individuals in poverty alleviation work, saying that “The official inspection of other officials cannot replace a channel to complain about related issues and provide remedies for citizens.”40 In addition, the administrative-led model of targeted poverty alleviation may indeed objectively have an adverse effect on citizens seeking protection for their rights if there is no adequate accountability mechanism. How should we approach such characteristics and questions of targeted poverty alleviation objectively?
B. The rule of policy and the rule of law in poverty alleviation
When rule of law and human rights have become the mainstream discourse, the lack of rule-of-law and empowerment awareness in poverty alleviation seems to be an obvious shortcoming. However, if we have a deeper understanding of of targeted poverty alleviation in the actual Chinese and international context, these shortcomings are actually not as serious as they seem.
We must realize that the adoption of policy-based implementation methods does not negate rule of law in targeted poverty alleviation, which is first and foremost carried out within the framework of existing economic, social, and cultural rights protection systems in China. China has adopted the 1986 Compulsory Education Law, the 1994 Labor Law, the 1999 Regulations on Urban Subsistence Security, the 2004 Interim Measures on Social Assistance, the 2006 Regulations on Rural Five Guarantees Work, the 2010 Social Insurance Law, and other laws and regulations. Together with many local regulations, they have established a relatively comprehensive legal system for the protection of economic, social, and cultural rights in China. Targeted poverty alleviation serves only to further improve and consolidate the protection of rights outside the legal framework. Therefore, policy orientation does not mean a complete lack of legal protection in protecting economic, social, and cultural rights related to poverty alleviation.
There are objective reasons for not launching poverty alleviation work through national legislation. Poverty alleviation work varies greatly in different regions, and the standards and measures are subject to frequent change. It involves civil affairs, finance, medical care, education, and many other departments. Therefore, it is indeed difficult for the state to pass a national law that emphasizes stability and uniformity in a short time.41 Moreover, judging from the practice of precision poverty alleviation, the current policy-based approach can basically effectively complete the strategic tasks of targeted poverty alleviation. Although the human rights approach emphasizes the rule of law, it never takes the law as the only means to protect human rights. Article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights requires that “steps be taken to use all appropriate methods, especially legislative methods, to gradually achieve the full realization of the rights recognized in this Convention.” The policy-based approach is generally considered not as powerful as the legislative approach, but it is still an option in conformity with the human rights approach.
Furthermore, the fact that targeted poverty alleviation is based on policies of the central government does not mean that the central government ignores the rule of law in poverty alleviation work. Nor does it mean that there is no corresponding legislation at the local level. The Decision on Winning the Uphill Battle against Poverty specifically points out that “[we must] promote rule-of-law construction in poverty alleviation and development.” It calls on Party committees and governments at all levels “to be good at using rule-of-law thinking and legal methods to promote poverty alleviation and development,” and further requires “improving poverty alleviation and development laws and regulations, and promptly formulating regulations in this regard.” In fact, the provinces have made great progress in advancing the rule of law in poverty alleviation. By May 2020, 20 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities had formulated regulations on local poverty alleviation work and development, including Hebei, Henan, Shanxi, and Shaanxi. Therefore, although based on policy, targeted poverty alleviation is also comprehensive governance integrating the rule of law.
C. Promotion of poverty alleviation policies by the government and rights holders
Regarding empowerment strongly advocated by the human rights approach, it can be seen from the above demonstration that targeted poverty alleviation actually implements the principle of empowering the poor, both in the concept of poverty andm ulti-dimensional poverty alleviation strategies and from the participation of the poor in decision-making involving their interests and the transparency of the poverty alleviation process, as well as the supervision and complaint mechanism. The scant use of human rights or rights language by central poverty alleviation policies and poverty alleviation officials does not affect the empowerment nature of targeted poverty alleviation on the whole.
Even for the legal capability to claim the rights of greatest concern to the principle of empowerment and vital to the supervision and accountability of poverty alleviation work, the institutional arrangement is not lacking in the current Chinese legal system. Take for example the 2014 Interim Measures for Social Assistance of the State Council. In this regulation, which is closely related to poverty alleviation, several types of social assistance are stipulated, including “subsistence allowance”, “support for extremely poor people”, “relief for disaster-affected persons”, “medical assistance”, “education assistance”, “housing assistance”, “employment assistance” and “temporary assistance.” Although it doesn’t carry such wording as “rights”, it guarantees poor people the right to social security, the right to an adequate standard of living (including housing), the right to work, the right to health, and the right for their children to have an to education. It also clearly stipulates that “households or persons who have applied for or have received social assistance but are dissatisfied with the specific administrative actions of the social assistance management department may apply for administrative reconsideration or file an administrative lawsuit according to law.” Regulations such as this have made it possible for individuals to supervise a considerable part of the government’s aid-oriented poverty alleviation activities by exercising their right to litigation. Furthermore, even if no remedy can be given for some government poverty alleviation measures through the methods recognized in the Interim Measures for Social Assistance, the traditional petition by letter or petition channels are quite feasible in the context of precise poverty alleviation. Strict political and disciplinary accountability mechanisms in targeted poverty alleviation obviously help to give new life to the traditionally inefficient petition relief. Therefore, obstacles to the rights relief of the poor will inevitably exist, but Philip Alston’s assertion of “China’s current practice denying individuals’ meaningful use of accountability mechanisms when their economic and social rights are violated”42 is inconsistent with the facts.
In rights relief related to poverty alleviation, there is a certain necessity for reflecting on the tendency of the human rights approach usually emphasizing the law, especially judicial relief. Although a very important means in the protection of human rights, judicial relief is an expensive means of relief in any country and a luxury for the poor at the bottom of society. In the context of targeted poverty alleviation, the government ensures that the poor are treated fairly to a large extent through precise implementation, thereby reducing the occurrence of rights violations. Moreover, it implements effective evaluation mechanisms and the strict official disciplinary accountability
mechanism to ensure that the complaints of the poor can be effectively addressed in a considerable degree. Therefore, the administrative relief mechanism with Chinese characteristics is arguably a relief method suitable for most of the poor.
Furthermore, in terms of relief methods for economic, social, and cultural rights related to poverty alleviation, whose justifiability, especially at the constitutional level, has been increasingly emphasized in the international human rights field out of consideration for relief effectiveness. However, in practice there is no evidence to show that the higher their constitutionalization and litigability are, the more adequate their actual protection is, or the more effective poverty alleviation work will be. Even for countries with the best-developed rights relief mechanisms in this regard, their roles in promoting poverty alleviation should not be overestimated. South Africa is the country
with the most complete legal protection mechanism for such rights worldwide. Its Constitution not only fully affirms economic, social, and cultural rights, but also fully established their judicialization for the first time in the world. The famous Grootboom case43 legally confirmed that individuals can directly request the government to adopt reasonable public (poverty alleviation) policies in accordance with the Constitution through the courts, but verdicts directly requesting reasonable legislative measures on the part of the government are difficult to enforce. Their role in addressing the widespread poverty caused by extreme social inequality in South Africa is quite limited.44
India, another BRICS country, is also known for its constitutional litigation on economic, social, and cultural rights. After 2001, with the support of the Supreme Court, which pursues active justice, social organizations in India successfully forced the government to implement social policies including providing free lunches to poor students through a series of constitutional lawsuits on the right to food. However, “litigation strategy can never substantially achieve wealth or power redistribution, nor can it penetrate or affect the economic and cultural conditions that constitute the reality of life for Indians.”45 Therefore, its positive role in the overall promotion of India’s poverty
alleviation policies should by no means be overestimated. Indian scholars admit that when it comes to ensuring access to food, China is generally believed to be more successful with its broader poverty alleviation strategy than India with its more specific food subsidies obtained through constitutional lawsuits.46 China neither clearly recognizes the right to food in law, nor does it have constitutional rights litigation, but it does a better job in poverty alleviation and protection of economic, social, and cultural rights, including the right to food than India and South Africa, which would seem to have better legal rights protection.47 The reasons are multi-faceted, but the fundamental one is that, as Amartya Sen put it, the Chinese government has long “committed itself to eradicate poverty, and address malnutrition, illiteracy, and insufficiency in health care.”48
It can be seen that legal empowerment is important in poverty alleviation, but just as Philip Alston admitted, in promoting the protection of economic, social, and cultural rights, too much emphasis on “the merits of courts participating in the enforcement of economic and social rights” and the justifiability of such rights may prove to be turning the cart before the horse.49 The realization of economic, social, and cultural rights depends heavily on the government’s active intervention. China’s poverty alleviation model may indeed be wanting in legal empowerment, but the strong political will and proactive spirit of the Chinese government has proved the best guarantee for
the rights of the poor.
D. The unconventional nature and regularization of targeted poverty alleviation
The claimed insufficient empowerment and the rule of law generally do not affect the success of targeted poverty alleviation, nor negate the room for further improvement based on the human rights approach. In fact, both during the period of targeted poverty alleviation and after the completion of its phased tasks, ensuring its effectiveness and conformity to basic human rights principles are always a huge challenge. In 2018, the Central Government’s Guiding Opinions on Three-Year Actions to Win the Uphill Battle against Poverty recognized that “formalism, bureaucracy, fraud, impatience, and exhaustion, as well as negative corruption still exist, and very serious in some case, and they are affecting the effective progress of poverty alleviation.” In addition, there is weak awareness of individual rights and imperfect rights protection procedures to varying degrees, because of insufficient attention to empowerment and rule-of-law construction in targeted poverty alleviation.
For example, with regard to the crucial issue of identifying poor households, the current various policies and regulations are not clear enough and sometimes contradictory. The Registration Work Plan for Poverty Alleviation and Development is ambivalent on whether a democratic evaluation should serve as a prerequisite or a referential condition for the identification of poor households. According to Article 13 of the 2013 Measures for Economic Status Accounting and Evaluation of Subsistence Allowance Households in Urban and Rural Areas in Hebei Province, democratic appraisal confirmation seems to be a prerequisite for approval of poor household status by the county and township governments. This is also the practice adopted by Weixian county. However, it is contradictory to the provisions of Interim Measures for Social Assistance, according to which the final decision on the provision of social assistance rests with the county and township governments. 
Meanwhile, we must also realize that poverty alleviation through development is still in the “uphill” stage for China, but it is nearing completion. With great changes in the number and structure of the poor population, the targeted poverty alleviation characterized by super-political mobilization and organizational arrangements by the government will not be easy or necessary in the future. Therefore, exploring a conventional method for the poverty alleviation period has become an inevitable choice. In order to ensure sustained success in poverty alleviation under the new historical conditions, we must pursue a conversion of the mechanism conversion ensure its professionalism, right orientation, and integrity.
1. From the pan-politicization to professionalization in poverty alleviation
The current poverty alleviation method is largely launched through super-political mobilization. Not only are governments in poor areas focusing on poverty alleviation, but also a large number of employees from state-owned enterprises have given up their jobs to work in poor villages and poor households for designated poverty alleviation. This pan-politicized poverty alleviation method has its advantages, but it is difficult to last and may easily affect the normal functions of various units. Seen from a long-term perspective, the identification, assistance, and withdrawal of poor households will ultimately be returned to professional departments such as poverty alleviation and development functional departments, civil affairs departments, and social security departments.
2. Transition from the mode of government compassionate hand-outs to the mode of personal rights
In targeted poverty alleviation, the government takes an extremely proactive approach to create conditions and opportunities for the poor to get rid of poverty. The approach has higher marginal benefits when the poor population is large; however, as most people with the ability to work get rid of poverty, the marginal benefits gradually decrease. As the structure of the poor population changes, the need for more standardized social security policies and temporary assistance will become increasingly prominent. For example, among the 5,384 poor people from 2,407 households to be lifted out of poverty in Weixian county at the end of 2017, only 29.1 percent were able to work, while the remaining 70.9 percent were completely incapable of working. A large part of those having the ability to work are unable to do so because they need to take care of sick or disabled relatives at home. In such cases, although the state creates various opportunities for them to get rid of poverty, the national social security measures are definitely more likely to work. In most cases, as long as the state increases its investment in aid funds, the poor can basically ensure a life above the poverty line by applying for government assistance in accordance with the Interim Measures for Social Assistance.
3. Promoting the transformation from political pressure to rule of law in supervision and accountability mechanisms
Ensuring the fairness of poverty alleviation has always been the bottom line for ensuring the human rights approach. Therefore, it is necessary to continuously refine and legalize the provisions of relevant standards and indicators for precision poverty alleviation so as to ensure the certainty of poverty alleviation rules while maintaining the smooth legal remedies. In rural poverty alleviation, which largely comprises an acquaintance society, it is vital to ensure the existence of neutral intervention forces from outside. In addition to the intervention of professional poverty alleviation departments, the spot-checking mechanism and the third-party evaluation mechanism are also effective means of intervention. In order to ensure the convenience and economy of relief, the discipline inspection department should normalize the rapid response mechanism established to handle the complaints of poor households in targeted poverty alleviation. In addition, although the poverty alleviation work will gradually become conventional, the political and disciplinary red line established for poverty alleviation officials in targeted poverty alleviation still needs to be upheld. After all, losing this red line means that the rights and interests of the most vulnerable groups in society will be violated.
(Translated by QIAN Chuijun)

* HUANG Jinrong ( 黄金荣 ), Associate Researcher at the Institute of Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
1. State Council Information Office, published in October 2016.
2. State Council Information Office, published in October 2016.
3. Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on his mission to China, A/HRC/35/26/Add.2, 2017.
4. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Poverty and the International Covenant on Economic,Social and Cultural Rights, E/C.12/2001/10, 2001, para.1.
5. The Human Rights Based Approach: Statement of Common Understanding, Developed at the Inter-Agency Workshop on a human rights-based approach in the context of UN reform, May 3-5, 2003.
6. UNDP, Poverty Reduction and Human Rights: A Practical Note, 2003.
7. OHCHR, Human Rights and Poverty Reduction: A Conceptual Framework, 2004; OHCHR, Principles and Guidelines for A Human Rights Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategies, 2006.
8. Human Rights Council, The Final Draft of the Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty submitted, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, A/HRC/21/39, 2012.
9. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Poverty and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, E/C.12/2001/10, 2001, para.7.
10. OHCHR, Principles and Guidelines for A Human Rights Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategies, 2006, para.30.
11. Human Rights Council, Promotion and protection of all human, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development: report of the independent expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty, Arjun Sengupta, A/HRC/7/15, 2008, para. 31.
12. Human Rights Council, The Final Draft of the Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty submitted, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, A/HRC/21/39, 2012, para. 12.
13. Ibid., 2.
14. Human Rights Council, The Final Draft of the Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty submitted, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, A/HRC/21/39, 2012, para. 15.
15. Arjun Sengupta, “A Rights-Based Approach to Removing Poverty: Eradicating Poverty as Realizing Human Rights”, 1 Indian Journal of Human Development 1 (2007): 59.
16. Human Rights Council, The Final Draft of the Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty submitted, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, A/HRC/21/39, 2012, 49-51.
17. OHCHR, Principles and Guidelines for A Human Rights Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategies, 2006, parm.30, para.18.
18. Human Rights Council, The Final Draft of the Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty submitted, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, A/HRC/21/39, 2012, para. 36.
19. Human Rights Council, The Final Draft of the Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty submitted, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, A/HRC/21/39, 2012, para. 18-22.
20. Ibid., 46-47.
21. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Poverty and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, E/C.12/2001/10, 2001, para.1.
22. OHCHR, Human Rights and Poverty Reduction: A Conceptual Framework, 2004, para.3.
23. OHCHR, Principles and Guidelines for A Human Rights Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategies, 2006, para.3.
24. OHCHR, Principles and Guidelines for A Human Rights Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategies, 2006, para.49.
25. Ibid., 54.
26. See the Guiding Opinions of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council on the Three-Year Action for Winning the Uphill Battle against Poverty issued in 2018.
27. OHCHR, Principles and Guidelines for A Human Rights Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategies, 2006, para.30 and 35.
28. Qi Zhiming, “Audit Results Publicized for Poverty Alleviation in 145 Poor Counties: Efforts Enhanced for the Uphill Battle, Responsibilities Implemented, Certain Policies Need Strengthening in Implementation, Project Performance Needs Improvement”, accessed May 20, 2020. http://www.gov.cn/xinwen/2018- 07/02/content_5302690.htm. 
29. For the research on village officials and village organizations undermining the village unity due to the injustice in poor household identification in poverty alleviation, see Wang Chunguang, “Research on the Relationship of Poverty Alleviation and Development to Village Unity”, Zhejiang Social Science 3 (2014).
30. “CPC Hebei Provincial Committee Exercise Accountability on Zhangjiakou City and Related Counties for Prominent Problems in Poverty Alleviation”, accessed May 20, 2020. http://www.xinhuanet.com/leal/2018-01/03/c_1122205840.htm. 
31. “Xingtai City Publicizes 9 Major Cases of Discipline and Law Violation”, accessed May 20, 2020. http://www.xtsjw.gov.cn/index.php? a =view&id=133228m=article.
32. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Poverty and the International Covenant on Economic,Social and Cultural Rights, E/C.12/2001/10, 2001, para.13.
33. Arjun Sengupta, “A Rights-Based Approach to Removing Poverty: Eradicating Poverty as Realizing Human Rights”, 1 Indian Journal of Human Development 1 (2007): 57.
34. Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on his mission to China, A/HRC/35/26/Add.2, 2017, para.76.
35. See the Guiding Opinions of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council on the Three-Year Action for Winning the Uphill Battle against Poverty issued in 2018, para. 14.
36. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Poverty and the International Covenant on Economic,Social and Cultural Rights, E/C.12/2001/10, 2001.
37. Human Rights Council, The Final Draft of the Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty submitted, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, A/HRC/21/39, 2012, para. 9.
38. Chen Shangwen and Cheng Shijie, “United Nations Human Development Report 2019 — China Has Achieved Marked Progress in Human Development”, People’s Daily, December 10, 2019.
39. However, Philip Alston’s statement that “recognition of economic and social rights hardly exists in China’s legal framework” (Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on his mission to China, A/HRC/35/26/Add.2, 2017, para.63.) is completely wrong. In fact, aside from its Constitution, China has many laws that unequivocally affirm relevant economic and social rights. For example, Article 1 of the 1986 Compulsory Education Law stipulates the “protection of the right of school-age children and adolescents to receive compulsory education;” Article 1 of the 2010 Social Insurance Law stipulates the “protection of citizens’ legitimate rights to participate in social insurance and enjoy social insurance benefits.;” Article 3 of the 1994 Labor Law confirms a series of rights for workers; and Article 3 of the 1992 Trade Union Law confirms that workers have the “right to participate in and organize trade unions according to law.”
40. Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on his mission to China, A/HRC/35/26/Add.2, 2017, para. 68.
41. Yu Shaoyang and Li Guangxia, “A Discussion on the Construction of the Rule of Law in Targeted Poverty Alleviation”, Journal of Wenzhou University (Social Sciences) 3 (2017): 17.
42. Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on his mission to China, A/HRC/35/26/Add.2, 2017, para. 75.
43. For the specific facts and legal significance of this case, see Huang Jinrong, “Possibility and Limits of Judicial Protection of Economic and Social Rights — An Analysis of the Grootboum Case of the Constitutional Court of South Africa”, Global Law Review 1 (2006).
44. Shadrack B.O. Gutto, “Beyond Justiciability: Challenges of Implementing/Enforcing Socio-Economic Rights in South Africa”, Buffalo Human Rights Law Review 4 (1998): 99.
45. Paul Hunt, Reclaiming Social Rights: International and Comparative Perspectives (Hanover: Dartmouth Publishing Company Limited, 1996), 170.
46. Nandini Ramanujam and Stephanie Chow, “Towards a Human Dignity Based Approach to Food Security: Lessons from China and India,” 11 Frontiers L. China 243 (2016): 265.
47. According to the United Nations Human Development Report 2019, calculated with the daily purchasing power parity of US$1.9, the poverty rates for China, India and South Africa are 0.7 percent, 21.2 percent, and 18.9 percent respectively.
48. Amartya Sen, “Quality of Life: India vs. China”, The New York Review of Books, May 12, 2011.
49. Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, A/HRC/32/31, 2016, para.44-40.
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